Category Archives: #nowplaying

Elkhorn

I’ve been leaning on music like never before these last six months. The records I’m spinning at home have been helping to drag my soul from one anxiety-ridden day to the next, and my copy of Elkhorn’s The Storm Sessions, which came out on physical formats in February, has been doing quite a bit of that heavy lifting. Its origin story is tailor-made for this frightful time; two side-long improvised pieces that represented the lemonade made when life gave the guitar duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner lemons in the form a gig-killing blizzard. Snowed in with multi-instrumentalist friend Turner Williams, Elkhorn made magic. In turn, I’ve made it through this ordeal more emotionally intact than I might have otherwise.

Speaking of accumulation, I was recently organizing the records I’ve bought during COVID era — definitely more albums than usual, given the way ordering online provides a boost both in the present and the future — and I stopped when I got to The Storm Sessions. Should it sit with 2020 live albums, maybe next to that excellent Joan Shelley Live at the Bomhard set that came out a few Bandcamp Fridays ago? Should it hang out with conventional studio albums like Waxahatchee’s masterstroke, Saint Cloud? The sessions did take place at Drew Gardner’s home studio in Harlem, yet their searching sound and the circumstances that brought them about seem antithetical to the premeditation that defines the latter end of the live-studio continuum. Improvisation requires real-time reaction. It’s singular. There might not be an audience, but it’s as “live” as it gets.

Does it really matter where I file my records? No, but improvisation does matter. It’s what we’re all doing right now. Faced with a global pandemic, an economic downturn, and more time at home than even Daniel “I Like to Be With My Family” Tiger knows what to do with (don’t worry, he’s working through it), we’re being forced to adapt on a near-constant basis. Each day, we scan the most up-to-date dimensions of this weird and difficult situation, and we adjust, because not doing so would be like wishing the sky were green instead of blue, or wishing that it hadn’t snowed so much on the night you had a gig you were really looking forward to. Maybe it’s unsurprising that skilled musical improvisers made the most of a bad situation. (Maybe we could stand to follow musicians’ lead more often.)

To be clear, this isn’t about force of will, or about grinning and bearing it. Quite the opposite. It’s about a type of strength that can only grow out of an appreciation of one’s vulnerability — of the fact that being in the world means being changed by it. The most compelling music I’m hearing these days reflects the moment we’re experiencing, not just by addressing current challenges and opportunities lyrically, but also by letting our broken, unvarnished humanity show through. Whether it’s a collection of covers captured imperfectly on home recording equipment, or experimentation with new techniques and tools, I’m finding the most fulfillment in music that dares to document — faithfully — who we are after we’re knocked down but before we’re back on our feet. That’s certainly where I find myself these days.

It’s why I continue to find comfort in The Storm Sessions, and it’s why I was so thrilled to learn that The Storm Sessions has a companion album on the way. Elkhorn has teamed up with the Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz labels to release an addendum in the form of The Acoustic Storm Sessions — another pair of side-long pieces improvised at Gardner’s home studio during that fated blizzard, captured the night before the recordings that made up the original album. This is Elkhorn’s first entirely acoustic album, and while Turner Williams does appear on these recordings as well, the tighter instrumental focus remains a compelling facet — a narrower passageway for a two-stage journey that’s no less ranging. The way the guitarists are able to draw in close to one another in spots affords the moments of contrast a whole other richness, and their expansion and contraction along that axis makes for rewarding listening wholly distinct from where they end up traveling.

Still, as with all of Elkhorn’s work, the “where” is such a gift. Oh, the places you can go while sitting and listening to Sheppard and Gardner (and Williams, in this case) build musical landscapes and chart winding, serendipitous courses through them, all while leaving you room to fill in your own imagined details along the way. I have a silly, wordless ritual for when I put on an Elkhorn album: I tend to imagine myself settling into a dream alongside one of the architects from Inception, ready to experience a world that transforms in front of my eyes. (The fun parts of the movie, minus all that stressful corporate espionage.) That ritual started as a result of an Instagram comment penned by James Adams of the Aquarium-Drunkard-hosted Bob Dylan bootleg show, Pretty Good Stuff. He concluded, “It’s like you can walk around inside this music and find new and instant friends. It’s a tonic.” So well put. If there were ever a time when we needed internal experiences that have the power to transport and connect us, this would be it. I suppose it’s ironic, then, to be so thankful these gifted improvisers were stuck in place when and where they were, but I am. Doubly so, now that we have these new acoustic sessions.

Click here to snag a copy of The Acoustic Storm Sessions in the US, here for the UK/Europe, and check out samples of both sides below.

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Landon Elliott

I know, I know, musical appreciation is subjective. But I’m convinced Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” is the type O-negative of songs — a universal donor that has the power to revive anyone who hears it. I play it when I’m sad. I send it to other people when they’re sad. It’s kind. It’s effective. When this whole storm of awfulness is over, and we emerge squinting and blinking into the sunlight of a relatively normal presidential administration, COVID-19 vaccine in hand, it will be impossible to calculate how many dark days “Rainbow” helped to brighten.

Musgraves’ ode to perseverance seems poised to become a standard, and Landon Elliott has recorded an arresting new version that leans into its powerful affect with care and grace. He’s also leaned into the song’s imagery via the beautifully composed video above (directed by Daniel Bagbey), and a fundraising project whereby the art he commissioned to create the video is being sold to benefit Side by Side, a Richmond-based organization “dedicated to creating supportive communities where Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong, and flourish.” My own daughter (a prolific rainbow artist) submitted a watercolor work for the project, and I can’t tell you how proud I was to see it appear in the video. Okay, so I’m like 99.4% sure hers is in there. As far as my daughter could tell, I was 175% sure, though, and she was so thrilled. I’m just as thrilled that Elliott’s given us an opportunity to support a great organization.

Watch the video above, and click here to buy a piece of the artwork that appeared in it, with proceeds going to Side by Side.

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Dogwood Tales

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ve been making mix CDs from purchases made during Bandcamp’s fee-free Friday events. Part of the intent there is to contain the chaos — to retrospectively slow down a blur of new albums, rarities compilations, and live sets. It’s also part commemoration, since these Fridays feel meaningful to me. I love the idea that everyone’s stopping what they’re doing to acknowledge the value of music. We’ve been criminally undervaluing songs since file sharing took hold, and I’m genuinely hopeful that what Bandcamp is doing can evolve into a framework for sustainably funneling funds to musicians who so clearly deserve it.

It’s ironic, given that I’m buying mp3s like I haven’t in years, but my fetish for physical media has flared up in the process. I made my share of mix CDs during and after college, when iPods weren’t yet commonplace, but I never put much effort into the track lists, aside from writing on the discs themselves. Now I’m tearing pages out of magazines, borrowing my daughter’s glue stick, improvising insert design schemes, and hand-numbering to create limited runs nobody even knows about. I’m typically on the other end of that dynamic as a collector, so it’s fun to be the one writing “# ___ of ___” and deciding whether to make, like, five copies or four.

The first of these mixes was called “Still Here” and began with the poised and poignant David Shultz tune of the same name. (I ended up writing about it for the Auricular.) The title was also a nod to the fact that, even in May, it felt like we’d been cooped up in our houses for ages. Hilarious, in retrospect, though it doesn’t exactly inspire laughter. I kept that theme going by taking the title of my second mix from the fantastic calvin presents/Sam Reed collaboration “here,” which was released on Juneteenth. While counterintuitive, the fact that “here” follows “Still Here” in this little series makes me smile. Reminds me of that scene in Empire Records where Ethan Embry’s character describes naming his band after a misspelling of his own first name. “Always play with their minds.”

The third and most recent installment is called “Hard to Be Anywhere,” and it opens with a track from Closest Thing to Heaven, the new LP from Harrisonburg-based Americana/country outfit Dogwood Tales. It’s an incredibly moving song, and it’s no exaggeration to say I needed to hear it right now. The start of the chorus certainly hits home, no pun intended:

It’s hard to be in the right place for the right thing all the time

The more connected we all are electronically, the more it can feel like you’re never where you’re supposed to be. (Quick pause to acknowledge Jason Isbell’s own crystallization of that idea.) Even now, at a time when my family is swimming in, ahem, quality time, that sense of togetherness is short-circuited by the strange shape of this situation — limitations on where you can go and what you can do, daily risk assessment, constant stress, and the fortunate-yet-crazy-making task of folding parenting into working from home. At any given moment, it’s hard to know whether “the right place” is at my laptop, being the work version of myself, or in our backyard, pushing the kids on the saucer-shaped swing I hung from a sturdy branch of our maple tree near the start of this mess.

Then again, the “hard” part isn’t always about prioritization. Sometimes you know what the right thing to do is, but following through is what’s difficult.

Of the members of our household above the age of three, I’m probably the most content with settling into a groove around the house, carving ever-deeper ruts in the paths between my desk, the fridge, the downstairs bathroom, the couch, and the sink. (It can’t be coincidental that I’ve formed a close connection with the albums that comprise Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy,” as well as his recently released lost Ditch-era gem Homegrown.) I know that carefully planned and appropriately distanced activities — picnics, walks, drives — are a crucial component of our bubble’s collective sanity, but I’m not great about initiating them, and I’m trying to kick my habit of opting out when given the opportunity to do so. As hard as being out in the world is right now, I have to remember that the “rightness” of other places is diminished by my electing to stay home. This dynamic truly came into focus as a result of hearing “Hard to Be Anywhere” in the car at the start of a family outing I had mixed feelings about. Meditating on the song’s lyrics transformed my outlook on the trip completely. It was like the opposite of a dad yelling “I’LL TURN THIS CAR AROUND RIGHT NOW” at his screaming kids — more like “I’LL CONTINUE DRIVING THIS CAR AND MY MOOD’S SUDDENLY IMPROVED.”

WarHen Records already sold out of vinyl copies of Closest Thing to Heaven, but I wholeheartedly recommend heading to Bandcamp and downloading the album. It’s winner from start to finish. And Bandcamp has announced that they’re going fee-free on the first Friday of each month through the end of the year. I’m excited to see how this initiative grows and changes, and I’m hopeful that fans will continue to show up and demonstrate a growing collective conscience around the value of the music we love. And you better believe I’ll be making more mixes.

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John Prine

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been paying closer attention to musicians’ birthdays lately. I’ll see a tweet or Instagram post about whatever legend was born that day, think about whether I have a record of theirs to spin, and if I do, I’ll host my own little social distancing celebration that way. Santana’s is today! Herbie Hancock’s (April 12) was fun; I made sure to spin my two favorite albums of his: Maiden Voyage and Mwandishi. The other day I gave Live at El Matador a spin to mark Bola Sete’s birthday (July 16) after seeing a video — posted to social media by the the Dust-to-Digital reissue label — of the Brazilian guitarist performing alongside jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. If you’re not already following Dust-to-Digital, I recommend doing so highly. Best birthday party on the Internet, as far as I’m concerned.

I have to admit that, before the whole coronavirus shitstorm started, posts marking musicians’ birthdays mainly registered as eye-roll-worthy — an excuse for opportunistic vinyl collectors to show off. (Probably says as much about me as it does about them.) Lately it’s been a way to add definition to days that feel uncomfortably similar to the ones that preceded them, like mile markers on a flat stretch of road where the horizon is the only thing worth looking at.

Deaths are the grim and unavoidable other side of this coin. So many deaths. Ellis Marsalis. Bill Withers. McCoy Tyner. Emitt Rhodes just yesterday. Too many to list. You see the news, sigh, check whether it was COVID-related, curse the virus either way, curse our pathetic president, wash your hands for 20 seconds, then play something by the deceased to join the fractured observance already in progress online. That last part could also feel performative before the quarantine started. Now? Grief is so plentiful and valid — the rules on how to process it seem to have shifted.

I’m still really sad about John Prine. In the days following his passing, I read beautifully written postscripts and kind remembrances penned by the people close to him. I watched the touching and star-studded “Picture Show” streaming remembrance. I listened to the albums of his that I had on the shelf, and picked up one that I didn’t — a copy of the hard-to-find The Missing Years that became available online via Nashville record store Grimey’s. I’ve also made a handful of pilgrimages to the new tribute outside Black Hand Coffee Company on Patterson Avenue, created by the brilliant Richmond-based street artist Nils Westergard and pictured above. (Westergard met and photographed Prine last November in preparation for painting a mural in Chicago. If you’re a customer of Prine’s Oh Boy Records label, you may have gotten a postcard version of Westergard’s tribute in the mail. I rushed to the little library that serves as the tribute’s canvas when Westergard posted to Instagram about dropping a few copies inside, but they were gone by the time I got there.)

I’ve cried at a handful of points along this virtual funeral parade (looking at you, Brandi Carlile), and each time that happened, I wondered whether it makes sense to shed tears over the death of someone I didn’t know personally. Someone whose physical location I shared only once — his November, 2017 show at Altria Theater. He’s not family, and I’m extremely lucky in that my family members have dodged the virus, as far as we know. But Prine isn’t separate from my family, either. Alongside the Band and Allen Toussaint, he’s one of the foundational musical reference points on which my father-in-law and I built the great relationship we have today. Our interests overlap and diverge in a zillion other ways — we’ll never see eye-to-eye on Bob Dylan, that’s for sure — but we both hold the Singing Mailman in the highest esteem. We’ve also bonded over Prine’s good friend Steve Goodman; I remember picking up a copy of Tribute To Steve Goodman at a record store in Colorado and immediately looking forward to showing it off the next time the in-laws came to Richmond. How many other families and friendships are glued together in this way? Just as the people in a John Prine song feel exceptionally real, a mutual appreciation for Prine is the stuff of genuine, lasting connection. If you know someone likes John Prine, there’s a really good chance they’re worth knowing.

When listing my life’s happiest moments — kids being born, getting married, really good sandwiches — I’d have to mention that 2017 show at the Altria Theater. It’s not just that I saw some of the greatest songs ever committed to verse-chorus form performed by the person who wrote them, though that certainly was a thrill. I remember particularly enjoying “Lake Marie,” and getting a kick out of seeing this old man dance around the stage despite having been to hell and back, health-wise. What I remember most, though, is how I felt sitting next to my wife that night. It was as if something had encircled the two of us and started glowing — a profound goodness that didn’t come from the stage, exactly, but that grew from inside us as a result of being in that room, in that moment, in Prine’s presence, together. I’ll never forget it. By writing uncommonly disarming, incisive songs, John Prine drilled way, way down, through the stuff we typically worry about, through the many rotten and rocky layers of this life, so far down that he tapped into the wellspring of humanity that connects us. And being at the Altria Theater that night was like dipping our hands right in and taking a sip. I’m so glad my wife and I were able to share that experience. I believe it brought us closer.

I’ll never know what it was like to share a stage with John Prine, or to call him a friend. And I can’t begin to imagine how hard it would be to have that taken away — after having gone swimming in something other people feel fortunate to have sipped from. Still, I’m sad. So many of us are these days, and for so many reasons. It’s hard to know where to put all that sadness. It sloshes around, bubbles over, crashes into other people’s overflow, and turns into anger when we’re not careful. That’s one thing Prine knew how to help with: He could take something ugly — loneliness, despair, addiction, jingoism — and turn it into art that, in addition to being beautiful, was useful. He boiled suffering down to a pocket-sized truth you could carry around with you, in case you ever found yourself in need of it. The nugget I find myself reaching for most often these days is from “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)”:

You can gaze out the window, get mad and get madder
Throw your hands in the air, say ‘What does it matter?’
But it don’t do no good to get angry
So help me, I know

For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow

These lines have become a mantra — a way to hit the brakes when I feel my sadness metastasizing. I say them when I think about what we’re going to do about sending our daughter to school in the fall, and when I think about how John Prine would probably still be with us if we didn’t have a con man in the Oval Office. Maybe these lines will help you when you’re feeling frustrated and helpless. I gave my father-in-law’s old copy of Bruised Orange a spin while I was writing this and found a number of other spots to be helpful, as well. (“That’s the Way the World Goes Round” resonated in some new ways.)

I won’t go so far as to say John Prine will cure all that ails you, or that there’s nothing worth getting angry about. But if we’re going to make it to the other side of 2020, we’re going to need reminders that deep down, beneath the mess that’s been made of this country, we’re all connected. John Prine may be gone, but that river is still down there, flowing as strong as ever, and always will be. Now it’s up to us to drill down there.

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Eric Slick

The cover. The suit. The fog. The fonts. Everything here screams “Pre-order Wiseacre as quickly as you can,” so that’s just what I did. And I’m very excited about it.

In truth, the real reason for putting in your pre-order isn’t the cover art; it’s Eric Slick himself. The Dr. Dog drummer has repeatedly shown his versatility as a creator in his own right, whether you’re looking at his work with with Lithuania, the Palisades LP he released via EggHunt Records, or the dark and evocative Bullfighter EP that followed. Where Slick’s creative impulse leads, compelling art follows.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Slick around the time Palisades came out, and while that “I had the pleasure” expression is used so commonly you probably zoomed right past it at the start of this sentence, my chat with Slick truly stands out as a joy. We talked about meditation’s role in the writing process, balancing darkness and light as a performer, and the grace we have to give ourselves to improve as people. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I’d been given something important, and I feel the same way when I hear a new piece of music he’s made.

“When It Comes Down To It,” the lead single from Wiseacre, is a great example. Direct and indelible, the song represents an elegant marriage of form and function — a beat that shines via understatement, and a lyrical hook that elevates the elemental: “I’m a simple person / When it comes to down to it.” It’s an idea that expands as you spend more time with it, and it ends up (for me, at least) taking on an aspirational quality. There’s peace in being able to say those words with confidence, and getting there can involve lots of hard work.

Early in 2020, Slick started posting drum cover videos to his Instragram, and while there’s been plenty of complexity to marvel at, from Rush and Zappa to CAN and Outkast, my favorite clip of all might have been his take on Andy Shauf’s “The Magician.” In the caption, Slick described the song as “deceptively simple,” and he praised the album it’s on (The Party — a favorite of mine as well) in saying “you can hear the hours of rewriting to make it effortless.”

I hear that exact same magic in “When It Comes Down To It.” Take a listen below, and click here to pre-order Wiseacre.

Update: Here’s the second Wiseacre tune to be released, “Closer to Heaven,” which features vocals from the great Natalie Prass:

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Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

It’s that time again! Bandcamp is waiving their fees today, so it’s a great time to fill up an electronic shopping cart and support the musicians you know and love. (And maybe discover some fun new tunes along the way.) I haven’t seen whether Bandcamp will keep the fee-free events going after today, so I’m planning to party like it’s 1999/leave it all on the field/go big or go home. Well… stay home, would be more accurate, I suppose.

Here are a few YHT-approved Bandcamp buys:

Lonnie Holley — National Freedom

Songs Lonnie Holley recorded with the late Richard Swift between 2013 and 2014. As it happens, today is the second anniversary of Swift’s passing. If you’ve heard Holley’s outstanding 2018 album MITH, you know these two make amazing music together.

Roberto Carlos Lange — Kite Symphony, Four Variations

My heart did a dance when I learned that Roberto Carlos Lange remixed selections from Trey Pollard’s Antiphone album, and my ears followed suit when I heard the empathetic brilliance that Lange layered on top of Pollard’s already-stunning pieces. (I was so jazzed that I ended up writing a quick review for The Auricular.) It was a great introduction to Lange’s non-Helado Negro output, and I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to explore that universe so soon. These pieces were conceived in partnership with visual artist Kristi Sword in an effort to visualize nontraditional musical notation. The liner notes are fascinating — take a look here. According to Lange, this collection “invites the listener to open their ears to the sky, the sound of cacti, and the feeling of the wind on their skin.”

Anteloper — Tour Beats Vol. 1

Jaimie Branch’s FLY or DIE II: bird dogs of paradise album feels more essential with each passing day, and while I know it came out last year, it feels so connected to the moment we’re in right now that it might as well have come out yesterday. It’s made me a Branch fan for life, and I’ve started getting to know her Anteloper project, in which she partners with drummer Jason Nazary. (A collaborator of Roberto Carlos Lange’s, incidentally.) I snagged a copy of Anteloper’s Kudu tape (supplies running dangerously low on that), and I’m planning to grab Tour Beats as well.

Bonny Light Horseman — Green​/​Green

When you release one of the year’s very best albums, and then you go on to release songs that were recorded for that album but were cut for whatever reason — in this case “to keep the record simpler (and higher quality for vinyl)” — I am going to be deeply interested in hearing those songs.

Yves Jarvis — “Victim”

I learned about Montreal-based musician Yves Jarvis from a tweet posted by Citrus City founder Manny Lemus:

This is excellent advice. Good Will Come to You is such a powerful album, full of healing energy, variety, and beauty. When it’s spinning, I’m inclined to think there’s no more beautiful album in the whole wide world. I’m so grateful Lemus sent out that recommendation, and I’ve been enjoying “Victim” as well, which Jarvis released near the end of June.

Various — A Little Bit at a Time: Spacebomb Family Rarities

If we’re going by Prince’s example — and we all should, right? — the way you amass an awe-inspiring musical vault is to combine a deep well of musical ability with an exceptional drive to create. Those traits are Spacebomb in a nutshell, and it should come as no surprise that the Richmond-based label, management, publishing, and production powerhouse can assemble one hell of a rarities album. I don’t even know where to start here — there’s so much to dig into, from unreleased music by the Spacebomb House Band and an all-star assemblage of in-town favorites to renowned out-of-towners like Dan Croll, Laura Veirs, and Pure Bathing Culture.

And here’s a quick list of the other releases on my radar. I’ll aim to keep this updated as the day goes on:

Father John Misty — Anthem +3
David Shultz — “The Sea
Dogwood Tales — Closest Thing to Heaven
DarkTwaine_ — The Hainted
Mdou Moctar — Mixtape Vol. 3
Animal Collective — Bridge to Quiet
Kenneka Cook — “My Universe” (Lefthnd Remix)
Philip James Murphy Jr — “althea & juniper
DJ Harrison — Vault Series 10 : Covered

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Gold Connections

Each night, I read to my daughter from a series of books entitled Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. I’d recommend it highly to anyone looking for a new bedtime reading routine. The stories are consistently inspiring, and there’s one I keep thinking about when listening (and repeatedly re-listening) to Gold Connections’ new song “Iowa City.”

We owe our understanding of plate tectonics and continental drift in large part to an American geologist named Marie Tharp, who painstakingly compiled sonar measurements and seismographic data to chart the topography of the Atlantic Ocean floor. To that point in history, people thought it was a flat slab of mud. No rift valleys or trenches of terrifying depth. Just… mud. It’s amazing how spectacularly wrong we can be before someone like Tharp comes along and puts the pieces together for us.

Every time a place is named in “Iowa City,” from the title city to New Mexico, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, I hear the “ping” of a sonar reading. All the places we visit, all the people we get to know, all the conversations with those people… they’re all readings that end up forming the topography of our selfhood. We bounce off the world, and in turn, we’re shaped by it. And the more we listen, the more our capacity for understanding expands.

“Iowa City” is a breakup song with layers; Gold Connections frontman Will Marsh has said it concerns both an actual breakup and the sudden stop to touring that came with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. A feeling of loss is present throughout, with lyrics like “It’s just the way it goes” and “What else can I do,” and harmonica that sounds distant, as if it’s coming from a past that’s receding from view. Meanwhile, the references to driving offer bitter reminders of how the vans that should be hauling amps and snare drums across the country are parked in driveways and rental car parking lots.

The road may go on forever, as Robert Earle Keen famously put it, but we’re not always on it. It strikes me that the current shutdown means our sonar readings are internal. Cut off from new places, people, and experiences, we’re left to map the trenches of our present and past. I have to think that’s a factor in this moment of collective reckoning we’re experiencing around racism, Confederate monuments, and police brutality. In ways that are both personal and political, so many people are putting the pieces together to draw a new map of what America really looks like. I think Marie Tharp would approve.

Speaking of the ongoing demonstrations around race and policing, there’s another great reason to download “Iowa City” today: Sales through the end of June are being donated to the National Bail Fund Network in “solidarity with everyone fighting on the front lines for racial and economic justice in America.”

I’d also recommend checking out this gorgeous lyric video for “Turn,” one of the tunes from last year’s excellent Like a Shadow EP.

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Shormey

A quick heads up for cassette-lovers out there: Physical copies of Shormey’s bright and utterly brilliant God Bless Bob Ross: A Collection Of Low Fidelity Recordings are now available over at Citrus City’s Bandcamp page.

As you can probably tell from my last few posts, I’ve been celebrating Bandcamp’s recent fee waiver events enthusiastically, and since those Fridays can feel somewhat frenzied, with new releases popping up left and right throughout the day, I’ve started making retrospective mixes to unpack all the beautiful chaos.

The hardest thing about making a mix in honor of Bandcamp’s June 6 event was deciding which track from God Bless Bob Ross to include. The whole thing is stellar. I ended up going with “honeydipper,” which is intoxicatingly propulsive and wildly inventive in how it builds and releases its kinetic energy.

Take a listen below, and click here to snag a copy on cassette. $2 from each sale goes to Chicago’s Brave Space Alliance.

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Cass McCombs & Steve Gunn

It’s another great day to buy from Bandcamp, y’all. In honor of Juneteenth, the benevolent music marketplace is donating its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. (And they’ve pledged to do the same each Juneteenth going forward.)

I’m filling up my shopping cart now, and I’m planning to update the list of recommendations at the bottom of this post throughout the day. For now, I thought I’d pass along a heads up about a great 7-inch Cass McCombs and Steve Gunn just released. They’d hoped to sell it on a west coast tour, but since that run was canceled, they’ve made it available on Bandcamp. It pairs a Gunn-sung take on the traditional tune “Wild Mountain Thyme” with a cover of Michael Hurley’s “Sweet Lucy” (a song I hold near and dear — my daughter’s humming along to it as I type this) sung by McCombs.

You can hear both of those tunes below. And here are a few other items I have my eye on:

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Buy from Bandcamp today… again!

It’s time for another installment in Bandcamp’s series of fee-free Fridays, though this month’s event has an elevated sense of purpose amid the Black Lives Matter demonstrations happening all over the country. While Bandcamp started waiving its revenue share once a month as a way to generate income for artists who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and social distancing, several bands and labels are pledging some or all of today’s proceeds to organizations working toward racial justice, including the National Bailout Fund, Reclaim the Block, NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and many more.

Whether you’re supporting black artists directly or pledging funds to the organizations listed above, there are so many great (and great sounding) ways to show your support during this pivotal moment. Here’s Bandcamp’s official list, and here are a few recommendations of my own:

Angel Bat Dawid — Transition East

Back in May, the composer, clarinetist, singer, and “spiritual jazz soothsayer” Angel Bat Dawid released a pair of new tracks — “Transition East” and “No Space Fo Us” — with the option to buy a vinyl/book/poster bundle that includes an outer space grey 7-inch, a copy of Emma Warren’s book Make Some Space, and a poster that bridges the two. “Transition East” was originally conceived as accompanying music for the audiobook version of Make Some Space, which tells the story of the dynamic London DIY music facility and community called Total Refreshment Centre. (Dawid and Warren met there in 2017.) What a beautifully rendered collection this is. And what beautiful music this is.

Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble — “Stay Beautiful”

Angel Bat Dawid is also part of International Anthem labelmate Damon Locks’ 15-piece Black Monument Ensemble, which released the stunning Where Future Unfolds LP in 2019. Can’t recommend that one highly enough. Same goes for “Stay Beautiful,” which was recorded live in November of 2018 at Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory and released a couple of months ago as a single. It’s a tale of layered meditation, from the spoken poetry to poetry in motion (video available here), backed by Dawid’s pulsing clarinet and culminating with a cappella repetition of the title phrase.

McKinley Dixon — The House That Got Knocked Down

If you thought the Angel Bat Dawid thread in this post was finished, not so fast. Richmond-based artist McKinley Dixon released The House That Got Knocked Down in March, and as it turns out, Dawid is a fan of Dixon’s work. The clarinetist had this to say about “Sun Black,” the third track on the EP:

McKinley Dixon is an incredible MC. His new album… is full of laid back vibes, soulful beats and powerful delivery. I met McKinley at a film festival and we became great friends. When he told me that he had a new album coming out I immediately downloaded it when it was released and was completely blown away!

I had no idea this connection existed when I started working on this post. True story. I also recommend picking up Dixon’s entry in Saddle Creek’s Document Series.

Amaria Hamadalher — Music from Saharan WhatsApp 05

Sahel Sounds has a great thing going with its Music from Saharan WhatsApp series, which shares music recorded in the Sahel directly to cell phones. It’s immediate. It’s direct. There’s such electricity to seeing a new set of recordings pop up, knowing they’re unfiltered but not knowing what you’ll hear. This month’s featured artist is Amaria Hamadalher, and while I have heard her play before, it’s been with the group Les Filles de Illighadad. Excited to start exploring her work outside of that context. And can we all agree that this cover art is amazing? (I believe it’s from a shot that appears in the first issue of Third Man’s new Maggot Brain magazine, which is excellent.)

Mdou Moctar — Mixtape Vol. 2

Speaking of Sahel Sounds, Mdou Mactor released the first volume of this new mixtape series for the May 1 Bandcamp day, and it’s a keeper, mixing various live and acoustic recordings into one long track in a way that feels organic and alive. Speaking of “alive,” Moctar’s guitar is a live wire as always. Brings me back to the frenzied feel of his live shows at Strange Matter and Gallery5 over the past few years. While he may not have been able to perform at Friday Cheers this year as scheduled, these mixtapes are a great way to get a sense for what his sets are like.

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